Ch118 - Subdue
Although he’d overworked himself the day before, Liang Feng woke up early regardless, all because the one who’d led the mission to capture the cities last night had already returned to the commandery capital.
"My lord, last night, the two cities of Bai Pass were successfully seized. In total, over one hundred thirty enemy soldiers were killed." After a night of hard battle, even Yi Yan looked tired.
"What about casualties? Are you injured?" Liang Feng’s eyes were locked on Yi Yan. Even a change of clothes couldn’t hide the scent of blood on him.
"I only sustained minor injuries on my arm. There are seven who are heavily injured, but no deaths." Not expecting that his lord would notice, Yi Yan’s shoulders tensed as he replied lowly.
"That’s good then." Liang Feng sighed, reassured. The efficiency with which they took the cities and their casualty ratio were far better than he’d hoped.
Liang Feng thought for a second, then said, "Have the Xiongnu soldiers’ heads brought back to the commandery capital. After I’m finished with them, transport them to Huguan and build a corpse monument before the city walls. Huguan will assuredly break with one firm push."
A so-called "corpse monument" was simply a heap of enemy corpses sealed into a tall earthen burial mound, used as a deterrence and a show of force. Piling their severed heads on top made the intimidation factor that much stronger, of course. With how volatile the morale was in Huguan, it would serve as a catalyst to spur the fence-sitters to defect back to Sima Teng’s faction.
His lord didn’t normally like making a display of dead bodies; thus, every time he did so, it was for a purpose. Yi Yan said, "I’ll order it done at once!"
"When you finish with that, you need to rest as well." He’d fought three battles in a day, all of which were won whilst being at a numerical disadvantage. Humans weren’t cast from metal, they needed rest to replenish their vigor.
Yi Yan shook his head, "I’m not tired!"
In a situation as strange and treacherous as this, how could he abandon his lord to bury his head under the covers and sleep?
However, Liang Feng was adamant, "Fighting is your responsibility, but so is rest. There are still three hundred Xiongnu cavalries out there, how will you direct the militia if you wear yourself to exhaustion? Sleep. The rest can wait until after you’ve recovered your strength."
Gazing at his earnest expression, Yi Yan forcefully suppressed the stirrings of his heart and bowed his head, "There should be extra guards assigned to your protection, my lord."
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And yet, yesterday, the Grand Administrator’s Mansion had been turned upside down yet again. The new Grand Administrator Yan had died a violent death, and the menacing Xiongnu were nowhere to be seen either. What’s more alarming was that this time, they hadn’t even heard any hint of combat. It was as if the mansion had changed hands in the blink of an eye. That kind of utter silence was even more terrifying than the previous slaughter!
Who’d claimed the mantle of grand administrator this time?
Which was why, when they were told to gather for an official meeting in the great hall, most of them were filled with trepidation, as if it wasn’t a once-familiar building they were going into, but a tiger’s den.
They shuffled tremblingly into the wide, spacious hall. The moment they were standing in order of office, the sound of footsteps came from outside the door. Four armed men, cloistered around another, entered the room. The soldiers were neatly dressed, their countenance stern, their steps in perfect unison, and they emanated a frightful killing intent that no one could resist shying away from. But when the four soldiers took their place and the man in the center took his seat, a mellow voice filled the hall.
"Take a seat, gentlemen. No need for formalities."
The voice contrasted so starkly with the soldiers’ sinister malice. There were a few who couldn’t help taking a peek towards the main seat, at which point they forgot their manners.
They saw a man in black robes and a gauze headdress, with eyes like stars and a face like jade. Not only was he beautiful, he carried himself with a captivating air of proud dignity. Like the scions of the most prestigious families, he was simply meant to exist above the masses. But who could associate such a gentle noble with the events that had transpired the previous night?
When his ink-black eyes passed over them, though, their doubts vanished. In his eyes, there lurked a dreadful threat powerful enough to make one bow their head and bend the knee with a single glance. The few who hadn’t taken their seats yet quickly did so, hardly daring to breathe.
After he saw that everyone was seated, he smiled, "My surname is Liang; I came to the commandery capital only the day before, and discovering that a coup had befallen the commandery capital, had my household troops deal with the matter. Now that the rebel faction has been eradicated, it has come time to invite you all to a discussion."
Surnamed Liang? The moment he said those words, many recalled that someone of the Liang surname had indeed visited the commandery capital before. It was no other than the one who’d refused the Duke of Dongying’s order of appointment, Liang Zixi. His name was so illustrious that it was long since known throughout all of Bing Province, let alone Shangdang commandery. Many even had copies of the Liang Estate’s printed scriptures in their homes!
The crowd erupted into hushed whispers, but upon remembering the soldiers standing behind Liang Feng, those who’d been bold enough to make any noise immediately shut up again. At any rate, he had the entire Grand Administrator’s Palace in his grasp. If they didn’t adapt to the new state of affairs, they’d likely meet with the same fate as Grand Administrator Yan.
Liang Feng waited patiently for the commotion to die down before continuing, "Seeing as peace has been restored to the commandery capital, the next course of action is to retake the three passes and welcome the Duke of Dongying back to Bing Province as soon as possible."
It was only the most sensible option, but it wasn’t necessarily a good thing for those who’d played a part in the coup. For a while, not a single person responded. Liang Feng didn’t mind, "Countless people died in the attack against the commandery government. The deceased have given their utmost for the dynasty, as their loyalty demanded of them; not even the Duke of Dongying would treat them unkindly. But I’m afraid you gentlemen will not be able to evade the consequences."
What? Was he going to report the truth to the Duke of Dongying?! Some started to sweat immediately; the sin of submitting to a traitor’s service was, if not one they would pay for with their heads, then one which would see them stripped of their stations. There would be no escape for them, for the Duke of Dongying was unforgiving.
Someone let their impulses get the better of them and stammered, "Staff… Staff Officer Liang, I truly had no choice; it was under coercion that I had any involvement with the traitors. Begging your mercy, Staff Officer Liang…."
"Oh? Might you be Aide Jiang?" Liang Feng smiled.
"Th-that is I!" Aide Jiang hurriedly bowed, surprised that the other knew who he was.
"Your wife and daughter live in the inner residence. Apparently, you were the one to bring them to the Grand Administrator’s Palace," Liang Feng said evenly.
Aide Jiang hastily shook his head, quivering nervously, "Pr-preposterous! S-someone must have slandered me…."
Liang Feng smirked, "Oh? Staff Officer Sun, did you really slander Aide Jiang?"
Only now did everyone notice that there was a person kneeling by Liang Feng’s side – it was one of Yan Ji’s confidants, Staff Officer Sun. The man twitchily answered, "Aide Jiang, Clerk Wang, Escort Liu, and four others all willingly surrendered their families and switched allegiance to that traitor Yan. They were certainly not taken by force!"
Aide Jiang paled at his words and was utterly tongue-tied. It was impossible that these petty affairs could be successfully hidden from Staff Officer Sun. And who would’ve thought that this was all a set up by Liang-lang, that he’d already had them all figured out!
Not only Aide Jiang, but the other few who’d been named shivered as well, fearing that might have them dragged away with the wave of his hand.
Yet after hearing Staff Officer Sun’s testimony, Liang Feng merely nodded with a smile, "It seems that traitor Yan’s influence was immense. I suppose you gentlemen can’t be blamed for acting in your best interests."
Amidst their apprehension and uncertainty, Liang Feng lightly clapped his hands, at which several servants bore wooden trunks into the hall and placed them at the front. When the trunks were opened, everyone recoiled in shock. Many covered their noses and averted their eyes, too repulsed to look at the horror before them. The trunks were filled with gory human heads, a full five trunks, there had to be over a hundred!
Liang Feng pointed nonchalantly, "These are the heads of the knaves that seized Bai Pass. The two fortresses of Bai Pass have both been retaken, and Commandant Linghu is currently leading troops to Huguan. He should be able to conquer it without difficulty."
Everyone was even more shocked now. They hadn’t quite come to grips with the fact that he’d recaptured the Grand Administrator’s Mansion in only one day, but recapturing two fortresses and the fortified city of Huguan in the next? Did he have magic or something? But if that was true, it was a feat worthy of tremendous merit!
Liang Feng observed the changes in their expressions and let his smile fade, "Though Shangdang may be safe, the Xiongnu are still prowling at our flanks, and the Duke of Dongying has yet to return. It will be up to you gentlemen to reestablish the commandery government and manage the supply lines, in order to see this victory through to the end."
Everyone in the crowd of old, canny officials understood the implication in his words. He was emulating Emperor Wu of Wei! Back in the day, when Emperor Wu of Wei defeated Yuan Shao at the Battle of Guandu, a search of his residence turned up letters of capitulation from his own subordinates. But without even opening them, he tossed them into the brazier. It is only natural that people waver in the face of danger. How was he to maintain his army’s morale if he dealt severe punishments to every one of them?
Aide Jiang looked disbelievingly at the beautiful young lord; raising the matter up so high and setting it down so softly had put them all in consternation, but the trunks full of human heads were still fresh in their memory and the scent of blood still lingered; no one had it in them to object. His backbone went weak as he prostrated to the front of the hall, "For saving us from disaster, we will assuredly aid you with our utmost effort!"
It couldn’t be any clearer now which way the wind was blowing. One by one, the crowd bowed, "Wise Staff Officer Liang, we will follow your command, to eliminate the danger to Shangdang with all speed!"
Looking at the sea of lowered heads, Liang Feng sighed quietly in his heart. Only now, after applying both carrot and stick, gaining the petty officials’ obedience, had he really cemented his authority. With these personnel, compliant, and too cowed to get any strange ideas, the commandery government would resume function, ready to confront any danger that might come its way.
Slightly gathering his sleeves, he answered with an elegant salute, "Let us work together, so as to facilitate the Duke of Dongying’s return!"
That day, just as Liang Feng predicted, the tall monument of human heads incited a mutiny within the city of Huguan. In only an hour, the fifty Xiongnu elites guarding the city were dead, and Linghu Kuang smoothly took the reins in Huguan.
That same day, a courier from the Liang Estate came bearing urgent news. The three hundred elite Xiongnu cavalries had turned back in failure and were now on their way back to Lu City!